Turkish Prosecutors Charge History Mag Editor with ‘Insulting Ataturk’

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses during an award ceremony in Ankara, Turkey, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016. Turkey on Thursday rejected Washington's denials that it has provided weapons to a Syrian Kurdish militia force which Ankara considers to be a terrorist group and again complained about a lack of support …
Yasin Bulbul, Presidential Press Service, Pool photo via AP

The editor-in-chief of a Turkish history magazine is facing nearly five years in prison for publishing a story allegedly featuring some private correspondence written by Latife Hanım, who was briefly married to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

Derin Tarih (Deep History) editor Mustafa Armağan is facing charges of “insulting the memory of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk,” the founder of the Republic of Turkey, a crime in the country. The magazine had recently published the first edition in a series on Latife Hanım, titled, “What Happens if Ms. Latife Spoke?” According to Derin Tarih‘s website, the article details the contents of a letter “dated February 21, 1926 in Boston Sunday Advertiser published in newspapers” that discusses Atatürk. The letter allegedly describes Atatürk as an “inconsiderate despot” and contains other insults directed at the revered political figure.

The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet cites Istanbul’s Bakırköy Chief Prosecutor, quoted in the state-run Anadolu Agency, publishing an indictment stating, “It is understood that the article was written with criminal intent to discredit Atatürk.” It argues that, while referring to a newspaper letter, the content of the article in question is “akin to gossip” about Atatürk’s relationship with Hanım.

Armağan has denied the charges, arguing that the series has historical value and was not meant as a provocation or insult against Atatürk. In his defense, he cites numerous historical materials consulted in the magazine series, according to the Turkish newspaper Sabah.

The case is that latest in a year-long string of crackdowns on media outlets’ freedom of expression. While some have, like Armağan’s case, invoked the crime of insulting Atatürk, a majority of other prominent cases concern publications that have published reports detrimental to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The government has accused many of these of having ties to either the exiled Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen – who Erdogan blames for last year’s failed coup against him – or the U.S.-designated terrorist group the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). In the case of the secularist publication Cumhuriyet, the government has claimed both.

Turkish prosecutors have indicted nineteen Cumhuriyet employees for a variety of crimes allegedly meant to aid either Gulen, the PKK, or both. The most recent employee arrested is Oğuz Güven, the newspaper’s online editor, detained in mid-May for publishing a report regarding a car accident in which a public prosecutor investigating Gulen died. Güven had taken over for Murat Sabuncu, who the government arrested for alleged ties to the PKK.

Former Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Can Dündar stepped down from his position after fleeing to Europe, following his arrest and that of Ankara Bureau Chief Erdem Gül over a 2015 report accusing the Turkish intelligence agency MIT of providing weapons to jihadist Syrian rebels. Following the hearing, Dündar survived an assassination attempt caught on video.

Other Cumhuriyet employees charged with crimes include an intern who attended a secularist, Kemalist rally to the Cumhuriyet cafeteria cook, who publicly asserted that, should Erdogan enter the building, he would not serve him a cup of tea.

The government shut down another 131 media outlets in July 2016, shortly after the failed coup, accusing them all of ties to Gulen. Some of those shut down were broadcast outlets that inadvertently broadcast police raiding their studios.

The most recent victims of these police investigations are the editors of Sozcua newspaper that published a story during the coup attempt last year claiming to reveal Erdogan’s secret location at the time (Erdogan quelled the rebellion in secret, largely with the aid of the iPhone application Facetime). The government accused Sozcu of “committing crimes on behalf of FETO [the Fethullah Terrorist Organization] even though they are not group members” and arrested one editor; the other remains free abroad.

Sozcu editor-in-chief Metin Yilmaz issued a statement against the government accusations: “The only thing we do is journalism. But doing that in this country is a crime in itself… Writing the truth, criticizing and doing stories are all crimes.”

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